Healthy Food Choices Differ by Neighborhood and Category, Study Shows

Release Date: April 3, 2012 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- People can be of two minds when it comes to healthy eating, according to research recently published in the Journal of Retailing.

Minakshi Trivedi, professor of marketing in the University at Buffalo School of Management, studied healthy food purchases in both inner-city and suburban neighborhoods.

Trivedi compared food purchases using a method that involved unbundling collective data to look at smaller subsets to discover purchasing patterns that might otherwise be overlooked. For example, instead of looking at census data by zip code, the data was segmented to study inner-city and suburban neighborhoods.

The results showed that consumers differ significantly not only in their purchasing patterns across neighborhoods but also across food categories (such as soft drinks, ice cream or milk).

“Healthy consumption over one category may not necessarily indicate healthy consumption over all categories,” Trivedi says.

“Some categories, such as milk, seem to elicit stronger trends towards healthy consumption while others, such as ice cream, show a significantly weaker pattern of purchasing alternatives that are deemed healthier,” she says.

For example, foods that are added to other types of food, such as coffee creamer, may elicit more healthy choices, because the consumer is unable to perceive a significant difference in taste when the product is added to coffee. However, the same consumer may not wish to compromise on taste when it comes to a “tasty treat” product like ice cream, where the difference in taste would be more noticeable.

Trivedi’s research also discovered that neighborhoods with higher incomes bought healthier food compared to lower-income neighborhoods.

The study will be beneficial to retailers who seek to introduce healthier alternatives. In addition, “public policies aimed at promoting healthier purchasing habits may have greater impact if special attention is given to specific categories and regions,” Trivedi says.

The UB 2020 Interdisciplinary Research Development Fund (IRDF) provided support for the study.

The UB School of Management is recognized for its emphasis on real-world learning, community and economic impact, and the global perspective of its faculty, students and alumni. The school has been ranked by Bloomberg Businessweek, the Financial Times, Forbes, U.S. News & World Report and The Wall Street Journal for the quality of its programs and the return on investment it provides its graduates. For more information about the UB School of Management, visit

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB’s more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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